Interview with Zachary Gray from The Zolas
It takes some talent to write a catchy chorus. It perhaps takes even more talent to write a catchy chorus that uses a 5 syllable word as the crux of this chorus. This is just what The Zolas did with their recent track and 5 syllable word that I speak of, Observatory. Me – I have trouble with any word over 3 syllables, which makes for an interesting interview.
The Zolas are Zachary Gray (vocals/guitar) and Tom Dobrzanski (piano) from Vancouver, Canada, and they’ve just hit us with their infectious second album, Ancient Mars. The Zolas just wrapped up a tour, and PeteHatesMusic caught up with Zach Gray over email to chat about their name, the Vancouver scene, and why he was shirtless in their promo pics (see the above example).
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): We’ll get the question that bands hate to answer out of the way first, and pray you’ll stick around for more questions. Why are you called the Zolas? Is it for soccer player, Gianfranco Zola, French writer Emile Zola, Olympian Zola Budd, or did it just sound cool?
Zachary Gray (ZG): We wanted to name our band after the most celebrated exemplar of turn-of-the-century naturalism in European art and culture, which of course is Gianfranco Zola’s hair.
PHM: Where artists grow up or live influences their music. What does Vancouver, as a city and a musical scene, bring to The Zolas’ music?
ZG: Our scene is a unique one. Everyone plays different types of music and there isn’t a lot of competitiveness. We all live together and date each other and go to each others’ birthday parties. I think at some point we all decided that no matter how competitive we were none of us were likely to “make it” in music, so if we’re going to spend 10 years of our lives in soundchecks and greenrooms with these people we might as well make them our best friends.
PHM: The most recent album, Ancient Mars, is sort of a minimalist album in terms of sound yet it is quite catchy. Did you set out to write an album like this?
ZG: Yeah we basically just wanted to make a modern pop record that was full of singles. We deliberately didn’t think much about the arc of the album or any overarching concept until afterwards. It’s the opposite of a Pink Floyd album. Maybe our next one will be a double-cd fantasy opera in reaction.
(note: this would be AWESOME)
The Zolas – Knot in My Heart
PHM: Members of The xx grew up together and basically learned how to talk and sing alongside one another, which is possibly why they harmonize so amazingly well. Both of you guys grew up together and have a similar story in terms of learning to sing at the same time. How much of an influence do you think these experiences played in your complimentary singing styles?
ZG: We didn’t learn to sing together – we met at 13 as competing soprano soloists in choir. This sounds made-up but it’s true. At first we clashed a bit and only became actual friends on a tour of Holland where we were forced to room together. By some stroke of fate our voices changed at the exact same time on that tour and we bonded over mutual puberty and the task of re-learning to sing again. It was a bit like Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun, but in a 4-part boys choir from Canada.
PHM: Where do you get your lyrical inspiration, and how important is it that the lyrics fit your piano rock musical style?
ZG: There’s no better feeling than looking down at something you’ve written and thinking: there it is, that’s a real truth in a shape I’ve never seen it. Those are the lines you always can be proud of as you slowly fall out of love with everything around them. I only manage to write a few per album but that’s what keeps me excited.
PHM: I read that you like to write in a library at the UBC Campus. Why is that? “University girls” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
ZG: I do it just because I’ve written well there in the past and I’m superstitious but there is something kind of sexy about libraries, isn’t there? A quiet room of stressed out people tucked away in little nooks for hours, catching eye contact, wishing they were doing anything at that moment but studying.
PHM: Where do you see the Zolas in 5 years? Do you see the band doing the album/tour/album/tour cycle for years to come, or will we be watching an epic episode of you guys on a Behind the Music style TV show?
ZG: Oh I seriously doubt we’ll warrant an MTV retrospective. The only reason we’ve done as well as we have is because we don’t care about that stuff. We’ll do this wholeheartedly until it’s not fun anymore and then there are other things in life that we’d be good at.
PHM: I also read that Tom isn’t touring with the band for this album. How did this come about, and does it affect the band in a major way?
ZG: Yeah Tom didn’t do this tour because he was building his new recording studio, arguably the nicest new recording studio in the country. He’s still not quite done building it (this is his tumblr about it) so going on tour was going to stress him out. It wasn’t a big deal. We have lots of friends in the city who can play his parts. It’s definitely not quite the same, but I’d rather have a fake Tom with us than a Tom who’s worried about going bankrupt back home.
PHM: I’ve seen the promo pics of the band for your new album. Why do you hate shirts so much? Or is it a preventative wardrobe malfunction technique?
ZG: To be fair we had lots of shirts-on shots initially. Our mistake in retrospect was letting a panel of women from the nearby penitentiary select which photos to send to our publicists.
PHM: Congratulations, you’re the new editor of PeteHateMusic.com. The role lasts as long as it takes you to answer the question. What are you listening to these days on your music player of choice?
ZG: Trentemoller – Into The Great Wide Yonder!!!
PHM: Thanks for your time.
ZG: No, thank you.
So there you have it – don’t let penitentiary women pick out your wardrobe. It’s a problem we pretty much all have, isn’t it? Be sure to check out more great stuff by the Zolas by (legally) grabbing their latest disc, Ancient Mars.